DFA: Chinese vessels near Pag-asa Island illegal

Patricia Lourdes Viray - Philstar.com
DFA: Chinese vessels near Pag-asa Island illegal
The Department of Foreign Affairs stressed that the presence of Chinese vessels in the vicinity of Pag-asa Island in the West Philippine Sea is a clear violation of Philippine sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction.
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MANILA, Philippines — The presence of hundreds of Chinese vessels surrounding Pag-asa Island in the West Philippine Sea is illegal, the Department of Foreign Affairs said Thursday.

The military earlier confirmed that Chinese ships loitering in the vicinity of the island could be monitoring the country's repairs of a dilapidated on Pag-asa Island, one of the largest features in the Spratlys.

The DFA stressed that Pag-asa Island is part of the Kalayaan Island Group, an integral part of the Philippines where it has sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction.

"Accordingly, the presence of Chinese vessels near and around Pag-asa and other maritime features in the KIG is illegal," the DFA said in a statement released Thursday.

The agency pointed out that the presence of Chinese vessels in the area is a clear violation of Philippine sovereignty under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

It also noticed that the ships have been present in Philippine waters in large numbers and recurring periods as part of Beijing's "swarming" tactics, raising concerns on their intent.

"Such actions when not repudiated by the Chinese government are deemed to have been adopted by it," the statement read.

According to the DFA, the Philippine government has always been expressing its position and concerns on over "illegal, tension-raising or coercive activities" on Pag-asa Island and the Kalayaan Island Group through diplomatic actions.

These diplomatic actions include note verbales and meetings with Chinese officials, including the bilateral consultation mechanism, which the Philippines and China conducted earlier this week.

In a statement released Wednesday, the DFA said both Manila and Beijing "raised specific issues and recent developments and actions in the South China Sea which have raised concerns to either side, and proposed ways to address them in a cooperative manner."

The DFA, however, did not mention if the Philippines specifically filed a diplomatic protest or a note verbale over the presence of Chinese vessels as earlier claimed by presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo.

Nonetheless, the Philippine government called on all concerned parties to "desist from any action and activity that contravenes the ASEAN-China Declaration of Parties in the South China Sea."

China and the 10-member regional bloc are currently working on a legally-binding Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, part of which is the West Philippine Sea.

"We cannot emphasize enough the imperative to build and promote mutual trust and confidence, to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities; and to avoid actions that may further complicate the situation and undermine peace, security and stability in the region," the DFA said.

The DFA also pointed out that during Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to Manila in November, both countries agreed to exercise self-restraint in the contested waterway to avoid escalating tensions.

"We call on the Chinese government to adhere to this consensus reached at the highest levels, down to its agencies and its military," the DFA said.

While the Armed Forces of the Philippines confirmed that hundreds of Chinese ships are lurking in Philippine waters, the military also assured the public that it has naval and air units patrolling the area.

"We can assure you that we regularly have naval ships there and those are what we use in our daily mission and operations there and in eight other features, islands and islets that the Armed Forces of the Philippines is guarding, particularly the Navy, in the West Philippine Sea," AFP spokesperson Brig. Gen. Edgard Arevalo told radio dzMM on Tuesday.

The Department of National Defense had also encouraged Filipino fishermen to continue fishing in the West Philippine Sea despite Chinese vessels swarming the country's waters.

"Just as the Philippines honors our international obligations and protocols, we also expect other countries and their vessels to do the same especially when sailing and fishing in international waters," the DND said.

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